Love has been a hot topic in poetry for a long time, being a common topic in poems and even used by names as big as William Shakespeare himself. T.S. Eliot, a British poet from the early 1900s, is no exception to this. In his poem, The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock, the use of certain language and details throughout the stanzas of the poem helps indicate that the “You and I” mentioned at the beginning refers to Prufrock and a woman.
To start, Eliot uses the phrase “In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo” (Eliot lines 13-14 and lines 35-36) twice. The repetition of this phrase shows that women are on Prufrock’s mind, and it is something that he feels concerned over and pays attention to. Prufrock also notes that these women are talking about Michelangelo, which implies that they are talking about somebody who is very popular and prestigious: something that Prufrock is unlikely to be able to live up to. After the first time, this phrase is said in lines 13-14, Prufrock begins to talk about a yellow fog and smoke. The fact that the fog and smoke are yellow can be taken as an archetype for friendship, which may suggest that after hearing about Michelangelo, or somebody who Prufrock could never be better than, Prufrock feels that he may be seen as a friend rather than a lover, showing his loss in confidence. This same sense of lack of confidence can be seen after the second time this phrase is said in lines 35-36, where Prufrock begins to question himself about whether he should propose to this woman he is talking to, saying “‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’” (Line 38). This questioning of himself represents how he feels that he may not be good enough for any woman, especially compared to the Michelangelo that these women seem to talk about. This observation followed by the loss of confidence in Prufrock implies that Prufrock refers to a woman in the phrase “you and I” through the fact that women talking about Michelangelo seems to have a genuine emotional impact on Prufrock.
Next, Prufrock acknowledges “lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows” (Eliot line 72). Lonely men in shirt-sleeves has a very unromantic implication to it, and this unromantic way of life seems unappealing to Prufrock. This unappeal is supported by the two lines following it, stating how Prufrock feels that he “should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of the silent seas” (Eliot lines 73-74). These lines represent how Prufrock has hit a low point in life, as the floors of the sea are some of the lowest points on Earth. Such highlights how Prufrock feels very lonely and longs for some form of a romantic relationship, as the sight of the lonely men makes him feel as if he has hit rock bottom. This continues the idea that the phrase “you and I” talks about Prufrock and a woman, as a woman is the only thing that could fill this romantic void that Prufrock is experiencing.
In addition, the image of the mermaids singing in line 126 can show how Prufrock’s dream of a romantic relationship and a change in life is killed. For most, the image of a mermaid singing has a feminine aspect to it, as mermaids are typically female figures. In the line following when mermaids are first introduced, Prufrock notes “I do not think that they will sing to me” (Eliot line 127). Such implies that women do not seem to notice the presence of Prufrock and that he is of no interest to them. This observation, similar to the women talking of Michelangelo, seems to have a negative emotional effect on Prufrock, as in the last line of the poem, Prufrock says “Till human voices wake us, and we drown” (Eliot line 133), which essentially says that Prufrock’s dream has been killed. A cause-and-effect relationship is established here, where the mermaids not singing to Prufrock leads to his dream being killed. Because of this, it can be inferred that the absence of interaction with women in his life leads to Prufrock feeling meaningless and having his dream killed, implying how the “you” mentioned at the beginning refers to a woman.
Prufrock is most likely to be referring to a woman with the use of the word “you” at the beginning of the poem due to the many hints of negative emotions caused by issues regarding women that are seen in the poem. These negative emotions could all be resolved by a drastic change in Prufrock’s life, which could include engaging in a romantic relationship or marriage with a woman.